In Their Own Words

Danez Smith's “poem where I be & you just might”

Danez Smith headshot

poem where I be & you just might

               I am sitting next to you & you are not there
you're a frameless heat, mass of ruptured air.

               to be clear, you are the spit & liver it takes
to be human & I want it & I think you want me

               to have it all, but I know
what it's like to be one of the few blacks

               for miles. I know what our people think
about me, or maybe us. I know
               God's flaming eye, I stare into it always
dying to blink, irises cracking like commandment stones.

               I get it.
               I get it.

               &it might be how you say
my name like a testimony

               or how I graze your hand
&yours doesn't move, but my body

               made up a rumor about your body
&wants to prove it true. forgive him.

Reprinted with the permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Introduction by Christopher Soto

Danez Smith's debut collection of poems [Insert] Boy is a testament to pain, a gospel of possibility. Here, each poem is a body reborn and rising to claim itself. "I am learning to touch a man's back / & not think saddle or conquer or burn." Smith is a poet whose work is stamped with the presence of literary legends such as James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. [Insert] Boy is a collection whose musicality transcends the confines of both page and stage.

Danez Smith on "poem where I be & you just might"

Once upon an April, I forced myself to sit down and write the too late love poems for a few boys who came into my life brief, but grand seasons. I was thinking about the many loves that were never lovers—how intimacy and romance can occupy a room without taking hold of the body.

Have you ever been black and queer in a small Midwestern town? Makes for some good stories, huh? The humble bars, iced over roads, and school gym churches of Wisconsin are where the tensions between race, sexuality, and place have felt most palpable to me. Those spaces where one particular enclave of "your people' is so small that any feared difference is enough to shrink your world and network down from small to threadbare. This must be the nature of xenophobia: to push the feared body further and further into loneliness or, maybe, to keep the body in line.Ain't it the Church's xenophobia that keeps people either out of the pews or silenced in them. Ain't that what keeps my people at comfort within the red lines drawn out for them? There is beauty and safety in being the same as those around you.But who is controlled by that need for a love only promised by sanding the self down into the image most familiar to those around them?

Once, I loved a boy & I think he loved me too. Once, we lived in town where all the black folks know each other. Once, no one could know. Once, my pastor told me I'd have to repent and reprogram if I wanted to stay involved in church. Once, I didn't care for God. Once, I loved a boy & sitting too close to him was a honeymoon. Once, I loved a boy & what if someone found out? Once, I loved a boy & he couldn't bring himself to love me back. I can't blame him. I built him a poem so he could.

More In Their Own Words